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Dublin: 8 °C Saturday 19 April, 2014

Column: ‘Test breakthrough was definitely coming for Eoin O’Malley’

Former Leinster and Ireland hooker Shane Byrne believes the retired rugby player would have been a quality Ireland international.

Eoin O'Malley won three Ireland Wolfhounds caps.
Eoin O'Malley won three Ireland Wolfhounds caps.
Image: ©INPHO/Cathal Noonan

EOIN MALLEY’S RUGBY retirement is a serious blow for the young lad [he is 25] and for Leinster. He was plagued with injury problems for the past and there must be some bone damage for him to be forced to call it a day so young.

Cup-winning squads are built around players like Eoin O’Malley. When the stars and the stalwarts were not available — either through Ireland duty or injury — players like O’Malley would step into the breach.

O’Malley had stepped up from being a second-string squad member to someone you would have no qualms with if he started. He made that breakthrough around the same time as Fergus McFadden and both players have acquitted themselves well in the Pro12 and Heineken Cup.

In four years at the club, he earned 54 caps. That is no mean feat. He was on the up and had three caps with the Irish Wolfhounds. He would have got better and better. The word from the guys at Leinster was that he was an absolute and thorough professional.

O’Malley was called into the Six Nations training squad early last year but injury struck near the end of the season. For him, I always felt, it was just a matter of patience. His international chance was coming; it was definitely coming for him.

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Jonathan Sexton jokes with Eoin O’Malley at an Ireland training session. (©INPHO/Cathal Noonan)

People say that professional rugby is ruthless but O’Malley was part of Leinster’s plans and they would not have helped him in every way possible. Eoin, it seems, had been travelling the world to look for a solution. Clubs and players don’t take retirement lightly so for a man so young to retire must have meant there were few, or no, options remaining.

Injury is a spectre that looms over every player’s career but teams today are better able to cope. A team adapts, moves on. No matter how big a star you are, a team still has to be fielded the next weekend.

The loss of another centre means there will be questions raise again about Brian O’Driscoll being asked to play too much in his final season. Whether or not you see the merits in Brian staying on for one more year, you can be assured that Matt O’Connor will not risk burning him out.

Zane Kirchner is an option and has played centre for South Africa and that is what you need. Players have to move seamlessly into the centre. Brendan Macken is another option and both McFadden and Ian Madigan have proved their versatility.

The hope for Leinster is that there is another lad coming up through the ranks that is ready to step up. Hopefully there is another Eoin O’Malley there, a lad ready, and with all the tools, to become a star.

It may be hard to bear now but O’Malley should know that he has achieved more in his short career than many player’s manage in ones that last 10 years longer.

Shane Byrne’s Club Rugby magazine is available each month in the Irish Independent. Follow him @shanebyrneoffic

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About the author:

Shane Byrne  / Former Irish international

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